Rune System

6 Sep


A combat and magic system for an action RPG that allows the player to design their own spells and effects using runes, magical symbols the player discovers during the course of the game.

Status & Revision History

Still in progress. Nobody’s signed off on it, because it’s not actually being used in a game.

Open Issues

Discovery of rune combinations – done automatically, or logged as the player stumbles across them? Trial and error is a pain, so find another way to give them to the player. Ideally every element and action combination will yield a spell, but this may not be the case.

I’d like to give the player a choice of runes as they progress. Do they take the new element rune, or the new action rune? This creates problems where level design would want to create puzzles requiring a certain rune or combination.


Goal 1

To present freedom to the player by allowing them to create their abilities.

Goal 2

To design unique challenges that will require the player to experiment with their runes to overcome.

Main Body

The player is an outsider in a world with magical elements. Throughout his journey, the player finds runes/symbols that allow them to create magical effects and attacks. As the player explores and progresses throughout the game, they grow more proficient in the world’s magic, and are allowed to cast more complex spells.


The player has both a health bar and an essence bar. Health is lost when a player is hit by attacks, and when it reaches zero, the player is defeated. As players cast spells, their essence is depleted, with more powerful spells costing more essence (detailed later). Both regenerate over time, with health regenerating more slowly then essence.

As the player spends essence, they are more susceptible to damage. This could work two ways:

  1. The essence meter is split into several sections (this number may be variable on the player’s strength or the difficulty level.) Each time the essence meter drops into the section below it, the player is given a debuff that increases the damage they take. When the essence meter recovers, the debuffs are removed.
    Example: The meter is 2/5ths expended, so the player has two debuffs on them.
  2. When the player takes damage, they also receive bonus damage equal to the base damage multiplied by the percentage of the essence meter that is expended.
    Example: The essence meter is at 62% (38% spent,) so the player takes 138% of the damage that they would take with no spent essence.

These damage values could easily be adjusted as part of the difficulty level, and/or be introduced as a game mechanic and be lowered through abilities and equipment.


Runes are the magical symbols that the PC uses to create spells. The player discovers one or two runes early in the game, and can find additional runes as they progress through the game. Runes have three basic types:

  • Element runes unlock the conjuration and manipulation of elemental energy. These are used to change the characteristics of spells, or used by themselves to imbue the PC with elemental energy.
  • Action runes can be used to create powerful magic attacks and effects. While they can be used alone, their real power comes from being combined with one or more other runes.
  • Modifier runes are optional runes that must be added to an action rune to have any discernible effect. When used properly, they change the properties of the original spell.

Rune Examples

The player has four runes. Fire (element,) strike (action,) orb (action,) and mob (modifier.) If the player casts the fire rune by itself, it will imbue the player with the fire element for a short period of time, allowing them to withstand fire damage, and damage enemies that are in close proximity.

If the player combines the fire rune with the strike rune, using the spell will cause the player to attack while channeling fire energy through their weapon, increasing damage dealt and setting enemies on fire. However, if the player chooses to substitute the strike rune for the orb rune, they will be capable of launching flaming meteors towards their adversaries. Adding the mob rune to the fire/orb combination will allow the player to launch smaller meteors at a faster pace, targeting multiple enemies.


When the player first starts the game, they will only have 1 rune slot, and will not have the ability to combine runes. Each rune slot earned/unlocked throughout the course of the game allows the player to add another rune to each spell they create. Unlocking a rune slot allows all the spells that player makes to consist of an additional rune.

To create a spell, the player enters the spell creation interface, located in the pause menu. Here, there is a section that contains all the runes that the player owns, along with empty slots for each spell button (see controls) the player has. The player creates spells by selecting a rune from those he owns, and places it in one or more empty slots. Runes the player owns can be used in different rune combinations simultaneously.

The player assigns each rune combination to a key on the face of the controller. While the player has the rune trigger held down, pressing any face button will allow the player to use the corresponding rune combination. If the player has more than 4 rune combinations, they can press the shoulder buttons to cycle through different sets of runes (there will be a maximum amount of rune sets the player can have. 3?)

There will be some sort of system for identifying rune combinations that the player has used before. Additionally, there should be some way for the player to stumble across valid rune combinations without having to try all the combinations available to them. Hopefully, all rune combinations that use 1 action and 1 element rune will yield a valid spell. Also, modifier runes do not always extensively change the spell, and can be used without worrying about invalidating the spell.

Preliminary Rune List

Element Runes

  • Fire
  • Ice
  • Earth
  • Darkness/void
  • Light
  • Arcane/energy

Action Runes

  • Nova: Creates an explosion, with the center of the blast at the PC’s feet.
    Example: Ice + Nova will create an explosion of cold magic, damaging surrounding enemies and freezing them to the ground.
  • Projectile: Throws a medium sized projectile at a target.
    Example: Earth + Projectile will launch a boulder at the target, damaging them and pushing them backwards.
  • Strike: Attacks fiercely with the PC’s melee weapon.
    Example: Fire + Strike will cause the PC’s weapon to burst into flame while striking with it, causing increased damage and setting the target on fire.
  • Trap: Leaves an area on the ground that will interfere with the enemy.
    Example: Light + Trap will leave a flare on the ground, illuminating dark areas and disorienting nearby enemies.
  • Throw: Grabs a close enemy and throws them.
    Example: Darkness + Throw grabs a nearby enemy with dark tendrils, absorbs some of their life and gives it to the PC, then throws the enemy at others for additional damage.
  • Blast: Causes a fan-shaped array of the element to damage multiple enemies at closer ranges.
    Example: Arcane + Blast will summon a wall of arcane energy, damaging enemies as it projects, and blocking projectiles and spells that strike it.

Modifier Runes

  • Haste: This rune allows the PC to cast much faster and in many cases, remain moving while casting more powerful combinations.
    Example: Haste + Strike + [any element] Will cause the PC to make attacks while flipping over and diving under enemies.
  • Mob: This rune turns a rune combination into multiple slightly smaller effects, often capable of hitting different enemies.
    Example: Mob + Throw + Darkness will grab several enemies, and pull them towards the PC, bashing them into each other above the PC’s head, then tossing them down.
  • Charge: This rune is almost the opposite of the Haste rune, allowing the PC the stay put and charge an effect to increase its properties.
    Example: Charge + Nova + Ice creates the same explosion of magic as described above, but charging the effect will make the explosion radius larger, the freeze duration longer, and allows the spell to successfully freeze targets that may have been immune to the weaker spell.


Here is the proposed console control scheme.

  • Left analog – Move character
  • Right analog – Move camera
  • X/square – Weapon attack
  • A/cross – Jump
  • B/circle – Item
  • Y/triangle – Contextual action
  • LB/L1 & RB/R1 – Cycle through runesets
  • RT/R2 – Rune cast mode
  • LT/L2 – Block
  • LT/L2 + A/cross – Dodge/roll
  • RS/R3 – objectives/quests
  • LS/L3 – Center camera

System Interaction & Scope

This is the main combat system for the game, and will interact with most others in some way. It is fairly open-ended, and can be scaled relatively well. If we want to pull it back, we can design the system as secondary to the player’s physical attacks, and create less runes. If we want to expand the system, we can require the player to use the rune abilities to defeat many enemies, and incorporate puzzles into the levels that force the player to use runes to pass.

Discipline Requirements and Reviews

Issues, risks, and special requirements identified by design for other disciplines should be put here. Additionally each discipline should place their own comments within these sections to maintain that history.


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